ST. GABRIEL — Authorities say it appears the son of the city’s police chief was trying to defend his girlfriend’s home Sunday night when he fatally shot two brothers allegedly trying to get inside to confront a man with whom they had two fistfights earlier that night.
But exactly why the fights started is still unclear, and one woman connected to the brothers’ family who said she witnessed the fistfights and the gunfight has offered an account that differs from law enforcement’s.
Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi said Kevin Ambeau Jr. shot and killed Dominique Dunbar, 26, and Rove Lodge, 30, about 10:30 p.m. Sunday as the two brothers tried to enter his girlfriend’s trailer in the 5000 block of Martin Luther King Parkway.
Stassi said late Monday that investigators still need to interview a number of people who might have been involved in the fights or are witnesses.
“We’ve already lost two lives and we have lots of investigating to go and we’re trying to make sure we have no other incidents related to this,” Stassi said. “We’re asking the community to let us get to the bottom of this. We’re not rushing anything with this investigation.”
Iberville Parish investigators questioned Ambeau, the 25-year-old son of St. Gabriel Police Chief Kevin Ambeau, before releasing him Monday afternoon. Stassi said no one had been charged in the incident as of yet.
In a prepared statement, the St. Gabriel police chief expressed sympathy to the families of the two victims. Kevin Ambeau also said the Police Department is stepping aside and letting the Sheriff’s Office handle the investigation, given his son’s involvement.
“It is a sad day in St. Gabriel anytime someone loses their life,” the police chief wrote. “Any investigation by me or my department could be perceived as a conflict of interest, and neither I nor my officers will be involved in the investigation to avoid any potential conflict or portray any impartial administration of justice.”
The police chief added, “I have complete faith in our justice system.”
Natasha Populars, the girlfriend of Israel Lodge, a brother to both Rove Lodge and Dunbar, said the family still fears the investigation will not be fair.
“I know it won’t (be),” said Populars, who is also the police chief’s cousin.
Dunbar and Rove Lodge were trying to get to a cousin of Kevin Ambeau Jr. who had gotten into two fistfights with at least one of the men that night; first at the Popingo gas station on La. 30, then moments later on Sixth Street, Stassi said.
Populars said she had gone with Israel Lodge and Ronald Videau to Popingo, where they ran into Kylen Populars, who is Ambeau Jr.’s first cousin and Natasha Populars’ second cousin, she said.
Kylen Populars had a dispute with Videau’s niece that had played out over social media, Natasha Populars said. She said she didn’t know the specific problem, but said it was “something about money.”
Kylen Populars talked to the group, calmly at first, but then he got angry, “going off on everyone,” Natasha Populars said.
When Israel Lodge tried to calm him down, Kylen Populars punched him in the eye, and the two men got into a fight, Natasha Populars said.
When it broke up, she said, the group went to her brother’s house at the corner of Landry and Sixth streets, and Dunbar came over.
Ambeau Jr. also arrived in his truck with Kylen Populars, Natasha Populars said.
Kylen Populars challenged Israel Lodge, and the two again fought. While it played out, Rove Lodge and Ambeau Jr. “passed a few words” and got into a brief scuffle of their own, Natasha Populars said.
“They had some kind of argument,” Stassi said. “We don’t exactly know what about. One story we’re hearing is that it was over something that was posted on Instagram. Someone else told us it was over some money for a trip that one of the men owed.”
Stassi said the police chief’s son had broken up the fight and taken his cousin to his girlfriend’s trailer.
“We were told by witnesses in the trailer that two people came banging on the front door,” the sheriff said. “The chief’s son went looked out back and found Lodge and Dunbar.”
Ambeau Jr. and the two men then got into a heated argument, and, the sheriff said, Ambeau Jr. told the brothers, “ ‘Don’t bring this to my house!’ ”
The sheriff says Lodge pulled out a gun, as did the chief’s son.
Stassi said Ambeau Jr. fired at least four rounds through the back door of the trailer. There were also multiple gunshots fired into the trailer from a possible third party, the sheriff said.
Authorities said the brothers were hit multiple times.
In her own account of the shooting, Natasha Populars said that after the second fistfight, Kylen Populars and Ambeau Jr. left her brother’s home, and Dunbar came to the house, asking what happened and saying Kylen Populars had posted messages to social media — she wasn’t sure which site — threatening the Lodge brothers.
Dunbar decided to go to Ambeau Jr.’s home on Martin Luther King Parkway, Natasha Populars said. Rove Lodge went with him, and Populars said she followed in her own car.
When she arrived, she saw Rove Lodge and Dunbar outside talking to someone at the front door of the trailer. Someone, she doesn’t know who, said Ambeau Jr. was at the back door with a gun.
Dunbar said he was going to talk to Kylen Populars and walked to the back door, telling the others to stand back, Natasha Populars said.
She heard a door slam, then “a whole bunch of racket” like the sound of stomping. Then she heard gunshots — “so many, back to back.”
Rove Lodge yelled to open the door. It “flew open” and Ambeau Jr. came out with “a big gun” and started shooting again, Natasha Populars said.
“(Ambeau Jr.) just came out shooting,” she said, adding he fired at least five shots.
Rove Lodge tried to run back toward his vehicle but was moving jerkily, and he yelled “I’m hit! I’m hit!” Natasha Populars said.
She said she saw him fall down and fled in her own vehicle.
Dunbar died at the scene. Lodge was pronounced dead at a hospital in Gonzales.
Officials with the Iberville Parish Corner’s Office said autopsies on Lodge and Dunbar will be conducted Tuesday morning.
“Even though this involves the police chief’s son, the case is being handled like all the others,” the sheriff said. “His relationship will the police chief will have no bearing on our investigation.”